We were like marbles rolling around in a bowl. All around us, 360-degrees, mountains loomed in colours rich, dark and earthy. As the sun rose above the horizon’s lip, shadows began pouring like ink into the crevasses.
Hubby Phill and I were at Lees Paddocks in Tassie’s highlands, having hiked in the afternoon before and set up our squeezy two-man tent beside the rickety old hut there. Why didn’t we stay in the hut, you ask? Spiders. Rats. Enough said.
The syrupy sun thawed the valley quickly and we pulled on the same clothes, the same boots, cramming unwashed hair beneath hats, ready for some exploration.
And the mountains. As we trudged over tussocks, scrambling over fallen trees and lively streams, the shadows changed the mountains’ appearance. The inky black penned in new crags and cliffs; this rock more pronounced, that ledge fading, this ridge slanting at a different angle. Every time I lifted my chin to appreciate the purple-grey-blue-green of the heights, a new vista. Same mountain, new perspective.
Already, it’s been challenging. And I admit that committing to 150 posts (there are 150 psalms) is more than a little bit daunting. But God is revealing new things to me: the many facets of his character. Like those majestic mountains I scoped earlier this week, God is many things to many people through many circumstances at many times. Depends where the shadows fall.
A psalm a day. It has the ring of the adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!” And I won’t pretend I didn’t try to think of a suitable adage (or hashtag!) to apply to the psalms. But nothing seemed adequate. It all seemed a bit trite. Actually, I think the best way to encapsulate the benefits of this exercise is to leave the sentence hanging: “A psalm a day keeps…” Keeps me in his presence. Keeps me moving forward. Keeps my focus. Keeps me seeking. Keeps me spiritually awake. Keeps…
Perhaps you’re at a place where a psalm a day would keep you… it’s not too late to join me.
Here are my observations from the first seven psalms.
Today, I started by reading the intro in The Message translation which gave some great context. The Psalms is a prayer book. It helps us understand how to respond to God as he speaks to us. It is raw, gritty, honest. And still beautiful. I guess there’s something even in that: when our prayers are raw, gritty and honest, our faith will develop its own beauty.
Verses 2-3 in the first psalm form the perfect springboard to this challenge. A kind of vision-cast. The me I want to be. “…you thrill to GOD ’s Word, you chew on Scripture day and night. You’re a tree replanted in Eden, bearing fresh fruit every month, Never dropping a leaf, always in blossom.” (Psalm 1:2-3 MSG)
Yes, God! I want to embody this verse, to take joy in your Word, meditating on it always so that my head is full of light and life, ready to drip from my tongue and benefit the people around me.
Another politician pushing a godless agenda. A world leader slandering Christianity. People blaming God, saying there is no place for God and Christians in modern culture. The hostility seems to be growing and it’s easy to feel grieved at this trajectory, defeated even. This is what I thought of when I read the opening two verses of the second psalm:
“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed…” (NIV)
But God’s response? He laughs! (v4) And then gets mad.
When a rebel world is conspiring against our Heavenly Father, we don’t have to wear the war, don’t have to stagger beneath the hostility. We can laugh knowing God is sovereign. In control. All-powerful. All-loving. “Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.” (v11)
Joy + fear = awe. Our God is awesome.
And the final verse affirms the hope we have: “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blue wren so exquisitely dressed. Perched on a branch, his colour was luminous, that rare phosphorus shade of blue that flames brightly against the bush backdrop.
Psalm 3 was on my mind, verse 3 in particular: “You bestow glory on me and lift up my head.” This verse is a meal in itself, let alone the rest of this exultant, victorious psalm.
The glory of that little wren sparks again. Then there’s his female mate, so underwhelming. Brown-grey, blending into the scrub. And yet, he wouldn’t exist without her. His colours wouldn’t punctuate the canopy without her.
Does glory exist unobserved?
We may feel small and worthless, brownish-grey, but we are made in the image of a luminously glorious God. We exist to reveal His glory. He needs us to do that, and it’s part of how we tick anyhow.
Glory. Glory. Glory.
The world is charged with God’s glory if we will only call it what it is. “I lie down and sleep; I wake again because the Lord sustains me.” v5
The glory of our very existence reflects the glory of God.
A great wedge of light blazed from her door and I tip-toed to the bedside of my 4-year-old daughter to switch off her lamp. A foot poked out from under the sheets. Her skin like milk. Her palms surrendered.
This cherub and her big bro haven’t been sleeping with the predictability that we usually enjoy. Late nights. Heat. Summer excitement. Too much distraction from the simple necessity of good sleep.
Adulthood brings its own reasons for sleeplessness. “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” v4
This is the sleepy psalm!
And this verse is a reminder not to let the sun go down on our anger (Eph 4:26), allowing bitterness to rob our sleep, among other things.
God wants us to sleep well. He wants us to end the day with our heart in the right place so we can start tomorrow with joy, peace. “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” v8
God’s central role in our lives, the acknowledgment of His sovereignty, beckons the writer into deep and satisfying sleep.
What a lovely thought. That God even cares about our sleep.
Many of the psalms are written as songs. We are reminded of this in the instruction at the beginning of each psalm in the NIV translation.
“For the director of music. For flutes. A psalm of David,” is how Psalm 5 is introduced.
But I bought a new Bible yesterday, The Passion Translation. Oh, it’s good!
The same intro reads like this: “For the Pure and Shining One. For her who receives the inheritance. By King David.” Isn’t that so much more evocative?
In the footnotes I learn that the Hebrew word for flute is neliloth and can also mean inheritance. In fact, Father Augustine translated it this way.
Who is she, this pure and shining one who will inherit… something?
She is us, the church, the community who believes in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The inheritance? Heaven.
All this before reading a single line of the psalm itself!
So I will summarise. It begins with a morning tête-à-tête with God, a beautiful surrendering to Him. “At each and every sunrise you will hear my voice… I lay out the pieces of my life on the altar and wait for your fire to fall upon my heart.” v3
Then, there’s a bit of lament at the pervasiveness of evil in the world. How it juxtaposes God’s character. How it grates against all that God loves.
In ending, we are guided to view the inheritance. “I know that you will welcome me into your house” – heaven, eternity – “for I am covered by your covenant of mercy and love.” v7
Mercy and love available to all who run to Him.
You know when your faith feels parched, sickly, ineffective? Joy sucked dry. Hope leaking. Limping.
That’s what I thought of when I read verse 7 of Psalm 6: “My eyes of faith won’t focus anymore…” (TPT)
We read of enemies pitted against the psalmist, and I imagine both physical and spiritual torment. “Go away! Leave me…” the very next verse shouts.
What a ripe reminder of our authority as children of God. That we can stand firm and show evil the door. Bad thoughts, bad dreams, bad health, bad influences, bad habits? “Go away!” Not in our own strength, but in His do we have the victory over these things. The Lord hears our pleas. Yes He does. Amen!
Fighting words! This psalm is every 7-year-old boy’s dream! Flaming arrows and sharp swords and ferocious lions!
The God of this psalm is mighty, burning with righteous anger, ready to bring justice. So different to the gentle God of grace I usually call to mind.
But He is one and the same.
The psalmist relinquishes the fight to God. Powerful King David beseeching God to bring justice.
And notice how he doesn’t exclude himself from the scope of God’s judgement. His conscience is clear. “Let the Lord judge the peoples. Judge me O Lord according to my righteousness…” v8.
All the fighting words reminded me of another fighting passage. Ephesians 6: The Armour of God. Preparing us and protecting us when the attack is so often of a spiritual kind.
*Photo by Doxa Visual